Raising Children in a World of Guns

This is an image showing how to teach your kids the right lessons about firearms.

Photo: Oleg Volk

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my family and I were out of state visiting relatives. While playing with my cousins who were about the same age, we discovered my uncle’s rifle on a rack in his room. This rifle instantly became the focus of our attention.

We asked my uncle for permission to take it off the rack and were told it was safe for us to check it out because it was unloaded. Excited, we moved quickly back to the room. When I took the .22-caliber rifle off the rack, I checked the chamber to verify it was unloaded just as my father had always taught me. I quickly realized it was loaded, as a cartridge came flipping out.

That memorable experience has been brought to mind many times over the years. We were young boys ranging in age from 9 to 12 and most of my cousins had never been exposed to firearms. Fortunately nobody was injured, but I believe the stage was set for a different outcome had I not been educated on firearms as a child. As I write this, two events have recently occurred in my area related to negligent discharges of firearms, one of which ended fatally.

Unintentional Firearm-Related Injuries and Deaths

Although much less common than other accidental deaths, unintentional and negligent firearm-related deaths do occur. The CDC’s latest statistics show 851 unintentional firearm-related fatalities in 2011, up from 606 in 2010. During 2012, 15,151 people went to the emergency room for BB or pellet gun injuries, and another 17,362 for accidental gunshot wounds that were not fatal. This number includes everything from hunting incidents to self-inflicted injuries. Having the proper education and understanding about firearms may have prevented all of these injuries and deaths.

A child’s interest in firearms, demonstrated here by pretend play. Photo: Istockphoto.com

A child’s interest in firearms, demonstrated here by pretend play. Photo: Istockphoto.com

Tools Require Training

Firearms are inanimate tools that can be dangerous without the proper knowledge and instruction on how to handle them safely. As parents and gun owners, it is our responsibility to properly educate those around us on firearm safety, just as we educate our children about other inanimate objects such as automobiles, swimming pools, and table saws.

Some readers may argue that guns aren’t even allowed in their homes, but the responsibility to teach your children should not be disregarded. Firearms are a big – and permanent – part of our culture. A 2011 Gallup Poll (latest available) revealed approximately 47% of households in the United States have a firearm in the home or somewhere on the property. This means nearly a 50/50 chance that your child could have access to firearms when playing at a friend’s home.

Bringing firearm safety to schools would be one way to help educate children and parents alike. Historically, our school systems have used awareness programs to bring about positive changes. For example, the CDC reported a 54% decline in drinking and driving among high school students 16 years and older with awareness programs being a contributing factor. Through education, smoking among U.S. adults and teens has also become much less common. Teen pregnancies have declined steadily over the past decade using similar awareness agendas. Likewise, the CDC found that “to reduce sexual risk behaviors among youth, schools and other youth-serving organizations could help young people adopt lifelong attitudes and behaviors that support their health and well-being—including behaviors that reduce the risk for HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.”

In the late 1980s, the NRA started the Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program, which teaches pre-K through third grade children four important steps to take if they find a gun: Stop! Don’t Touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult. The program has reached more than 26 million children in all 50 states. Although a great starting point for schools to incorporate, I believe its weak point is ignoring human nature and children’s curiosity.

Whatever you do, don’t push this button. Photo: Istockphoto.com

Whatever you do, don’t push this button. Photo: Istockphoto.com

Don’t Push That Button

When my son Larsen started to walk, he also became interested in the contents of our kitchen drawers, including the knives. My wife and I instructed him that knives could hurt him and not to touch them. He understood that and it kept him from handling the knives for a few months. But the more forbidden they were, the more they drew his interest, and the braver he became. We quickly learned his curiosity outweighed our wishes.

When our original “Don’t touch” plan failed, we were forced to devise Plan B. I knew if the knives were simply moved to a new location, his interest in them would not change. Our new plan was to teach him how to handle knives properly and take away his curiosity by allowing him to explore them. He was taught which end of the knife to stay away from and how to hold it. With our supervision and help, he even began cutting food. He was also instructed not to touch a knife without his mother or me helping him. This removed his curiosity and reduced the chance of him getting hurt by examining knives unsupervised. I believe the latter is what NRA’s Eddie Eagle program is missing. If we really want to reduce unintentional shootings, we need to teach awareness and safety, but also remove the mystery of firearms by allowing our youth to explore guns safely.

Handling Firearms Safely

Safe handling rules need to be taught to all individuals who could potentially have access to firearms. A few different versions of safe handling rules are taught throughout the training industry. In my courses, I teach three rules to be followed at all times.

Rule #1: Keep your finger somewhere other than inside the trigger guard unless you’re shooting. We want our finger straight and deliberately out of the way, reducing the chance of a negligent discharge.

Rule #2: Keep the gun pointed in a generally safe direction whenever possible. If you do have a negligent discharge, it also usually takes breaking the second rule to injure someone.

Rule #3: Keep in mind that you’re responsible for a firearm. If used negligently or maliciously, you can cause injury or death. This is more of a mindset or “big picture” rule. Don’t handle a firearm in a careless or complacent manner because you feel someone will not be injured. I’ve seen plenty of students try to justify it being okay that their finger is on the trigger because it is unloaded or on safe.

Student with finger staged in the correct position, indexed along the slide and straight

Student with finger staged in the correct position, indexed along the slide and straight. Photo: author

If you don’t have the knowledge or equipment to teach firearm safety to your children, I urge you to sign up for a safety course with them. By getting involved with instruction or shooting programs, you will increase their safety through knowledge and hands-on application. Plenty of private companies and NRA instructors offer courses nationally, and most states have a free hunter safety program available to the public.

Proper Storage

For firearm owners, our responsibility begins with proper storage. Regardless of how we store firearms, it is imperative to prevent unauthorized access to younger or uninformed children. Hiding or placing a firearm out of reach, unloaded or not, is not preventing access. When I was three years old, my mother found me climbing on cabinets near our fireplace and striking matches while sitting on the shelves. I see my two year old climb and explore in the same way. Never assume they will not find a gun or lack the strength and capability to operate it. Too often, this is how kids hurt themselves with firearms.

How we store our firearms can look very different from one person to the next. A bachelor living alone may be able to keep a home defense handgun in an unlocked nightstand drawer, but a parent of little ones needs to take other measures to ensure safety. When concerned about efficient access for home defense, I prefer to use a fast-access handgun safe. These are constructed to hold not much more than a handgun and spare magazine, so they can fit in places like a drawer or cabinet. The design allows for quick access through a biometric or keypad lock, but still prevents illicit access.

Appropriate Mindset

Some firearm-related unintentional injuries and deaths are caused by a complacent mind; the person who was taught how to handle firearms safely but fails to do so. Locally and nationally, we’ve had an abundance of examples, from gun show attendees and gun store employees to police officers and firearms instructors who have negligently discharged a firearm. Another story making headlines this week is a police sergeant who negligently killed an unarmed female during a raid. When a flash-bang grenade went off, the officer’s startle response caused him to fire his handgun while outside the house. Police were unaware he had even fired his weapon until going inside and finding a female shot in the head. You mustn’t allow for complacency when handling firearms.

The value and importance of educating and properly training our youth are immeasurable. The great majority of incidents are easily prevented if we take the necessary steps to inform those around us. With Christmas here and many kids receiving their first firearms, now is the time.

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37 Responses to “Raising Children in a World of Guns”



  2. Ray Taylor

    Very good advise, very well written should be mandatory teaching sy every grade level.

  3. a_manzi

    You not only have to teach about gun safety but also about ammunition. As a 12-13 age a fiend took a bullet and put it in a vise and hit the end of the bullet with a hammer. The result was part of the bullet (22) case going thru his cheek, it could have been worse.

  4. carl

    I agree with you 100 % without a doubt! Education of the safety rules of a gun and checking the chamber to make sure it is not loaded should be taught to children also, how to release the magazine.

  5. Baron

    As a senior citizen who lives with his firearm-trained wife and no one else in the house, I still keep all my staged firearms with combination-coded trigger locks or cable locks (all set to the same combination) except those in the master suite, the main purpose being so no home invader can find and use the firearm against me. It also provides gun safety at the same time. When we have guests, young or old, staying in the home, I also trigger-lock or cable-lock the firearms in the master suite, foregoing convenience for safety, unlocking the ones at the immediate bedside only when carrying them or when going to sleep, and we lock the door to the suite so no one can sneak in quietly and get to those firearms before we’re awake enough to get them and use them safely. Our son, age 51, is well-trained in firearm use, and has no children, so we have little or no opportunity to train young children in safe firearm use.

  6. Paladin

    One of the larger sporting goods chains in my area won’t even allow you to handle a firearm unless you can demonstrate how to safety check it. If you can’t, they will show you how, then have you repeat it until you get it right. Strangely though, there was one clerk there who seemed like a nice guy, but would casually muzzle me when showing me a handgun, and, when I pointed this out to him, his reply was, “we both know its unloaded”. Finally one day he was helping a newbie female and her boyfriend, and in spite of being shown proper handling SEVERAL times, the female would muzzle everyone around the gun counter, with her finger on the trigger. He completely lost it and refused to show them anymore weapons, and when she went all “Karen” on him, he stupidly pointed a pistol right at her and asked, “so, how does this make you feel?” He was swiftly taken in the back and given his walking papers, but, the customers were also banned from the store for being unable to comply with safety rules.

  7. John Decker

    I learned with four rules. #1) All guns are always loaded. #2) Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to see destroyed. #3) Always be aware where your gun’s muzzle is pointed, and make sure it is pointed in a safe direction. #4) Never put your finger on the trigger until your sights are aligned on the target and you are ready to fire. Rules number one and four are the most important. If you get in the habit of always handling a gun as if it is loaded, even a revolver with the cylinder hanging open and empty, or an auto with the mag out and the slide locked back, and keep your finger OFF the trigger, there will be no casual waving around of the gun, and no chance of the trigger being pulled. Most negligent discharges happen with an”unloaded” gun. There is no “accidental” discharge. There is only “negligent”, because if it goes off “all by itself”, the operator was doing something stupid. Stupid and guns do not mix well. If you watch someone untrained in gun safety, they will almost invariably pick up a gun by it’s trigger. It’s been done hundreds of times in movies and TV, and it’s positioned so your finger naturally falls there. It’s one of the hardest things to train out of a newbie, but they have to learn it, or they will be forever unsafe. I personally would not someone shoot until they can recite the rules and be observed practicing them. They must also demonstrate that they know how to clear and unload the gun they are training with. I would suggest training new shooters on a double action .22 rimfire revolver. It is the simplest to operate and has minimal muzzle blast and recoil. Just load, aim, and pull the trigger. I tend to run on, but I hope someone finds this useful. Enjoy shooting and be safe.

  8. ann robinson

    When my oldest son at 12 visited Kenton, Ohio; the Chief of Police allowed him to fire a machine gun at their range. Growing up with around firearms had taught a very strong responsible message about firearms, their usage and there obvious reasons to be knowledgeable in their usage. My ex-husband took my boys to the desert and show them what shooting a jack-rabbit looked like after being hit with a 270 cal rifle round at 100 yards. needless to say there was very little left of the rabbit. The impression lasted a life time for my boys. They learned a great respect for firearms and the damage a gun can do. Both Jaime n Estefan never misused a firearm in their 50 years of life todate.

  9. John Kirkpatrick

    We live ion a home with no children and I had thought that my carefully hidden .45 auto Colt which was my father’s sidearm during WW1 was safe. We were burglarized and the gun was found and stolen and tossed into a dumpster. Since then, my .357 mag Ruger revolver is kept locked in a hidden safe bolted to a closet shelf. Pretty secure but not readily retrievable.

  10. Peter Schultz

    Great article! I’ve been teaching NRA courses for ten years, and there is heavy emphasis on the parental discretion in firearm education at the earliest age a child can comprehend what’s being taught. Eddie Eagle is a narrowly focused safety program, so it’s going to be tough to roll firearm training into it. And, if that’s ever possible, good luck getting the schools to host it. NRA is getting it right.

  11. Kent

    When I was in school some schools had a shooting club which the student were taught proper use and how to respect firearms. The YMCA would hold shooting lessons and proper use and respect of fire arms. But it all comes back to the home the parents should either teach or find someone to teach the respect and the operation of fire arms.

  12. RP

    Adults as well as children should NEVER “play” with a real firearm. That was the first mistake and could have been the last mistake.

  13. um ok

    Growing up, I was amazed to find that my pacifist father and Uncle Sam shared the identical training method: Before you can use anything, you have to learn how to disassemble, clean, reassemble and get it in & out of appropriate storage. Only then have you earned the right to use it.
    I, my kids & grandkids are all unconsciously demystified of everything from pliers to chainsaws to vehicles to AR-15s. This is what should be tacked on to Eddie Eagle, IMHO.

  14. Tom Kuhn

    The biggest problem in teaching gun safety to young children today is the modern semi-auto guns. Many children and some women lack the hand strength to rack the slides to check to see if loaded..I teach all my grandchildren how to shoot they have trouble with my 45s, especially with the newer ones.

  15. Godfrey Buquet

    Thank you for the interesting article. I’ve read it, like many in my past, and though most such articles, it is a repeat of the ones in the past, but there is nothing wrong with repeatedness since it helps wake up our mind to our past. As adults, I’m 80 years old, we should all want to protect those younger than us. Learning anything and everything one can about guns is never a waste of time. Thank you for a not too long, and good writing.

  16. Daniel Shoaf

    I grew up in Ohio. My grandfather, my father and uncles all hunters and gun lovers. I was taught gun safety at an early age. My grandfather being president of the Ohio fish and game club, and writing articles for Field and Stream, it was a must for my cousins and I. Growing up on a farm was the greatest thing ever for a boy like me that loved to hunt and fish. I believe gun safety should still be taught in schools and maybe even the parents could be involved during the classes if they are not familiar with firearms.

  17. Michael Sandy

    Eddie Eagle would NEVER make it into a school with safe gun handling as part of its teaching. It’s amazing, and I applaud the NRA for doing it, that it makes it into schools now. People in the education industry generally are scared to death of guns.

  18. Bruce McGahey

    Great article –Could you e-mail me a copy that I could send out to my Gun Club? or I will copy and paste into Word –I would prefer a copy in your format. Thank You

  19. ROBERT

    I would personally prefer teaching children basic rifle before pistol. — too easy to swing the smaller gun across someone, and the rifle sight radius longer, so marksmanship basics are easier to absorb.
    The “elephant in the room” however, is the child development issue. The general consensus is that the understanding of “cause and effect” doesn’t generally appear until around 8-10 years old. [Before that, “yes & no, do & don’t” are the key]
    It’s also different if you are with your own child rather than somebody else’s.
    Years ago, I was often asked by parents to train their 7 or 8 year-old NRA Basic Rifle and Hunter Safety. I would agree ONLY if the parent would also attend. — It always worked out well.
    I don’t mean to criticise someone teaching their youngster at age 4; however, I would probably limit to a BB rifle and not a firearm.

  20. Randall Hart

    When I was in school we had gun safety classes, they should be mandatory for all kids. I know it saved a life when I was growing up.

  21. Robert

    As for a small safe with an electric key pad and a back up key. battery went dead and i had lost my key. i wanted my carry gun out. so i went on youtube and a 5 year old kid showed me how to get in, in less than 30 seconds and a paper clip and i had my gun and two spare clips. just that easy, so much for investing in a safe. it will keep dumb and lazy people out. but todays kids not so much youtube tells them how

  22. Bill Hyatt

    Exactly right. Knowledge is a friend and forbidden is the enemy. I taught all the grand kids gun safety and the middle one obsession on matches. Taught him and let him light every fire I made and the magic was gone. No such thing as an unloaded gun and of course the finger on the trigger thing. Parental responsibility seems to be a thing of the past. Now they want Apple to program in how many hours the kid can be on the I phone rather than a parent thing.

  23. Lester Millheim

    Very good written many years ago by author Massad Ayoob called ” Gun proof your child” good read for any parent. My copy has been passed on to many other parents. Worth every penny and then some.

  24. Allen L Clapp

    Cylinders open. Magazines out. Slides back. Make ’em safe! There is a reason that all this is included in making a gun range safe. I started competitive shooting on an auxiliary police pistol team when I was in the Army. Our guru told us all one thing: “If I ever see you pick up a weapon without making sure that it is unloaded, you are out. I don’t care if you just laid it down yourself. Check it when you pick it up. If you don’t, you are gone–no second chance!” Having that ingrained in me saved me in later years. I wish it had been taught to me as a kid. My dad once took me out to shoot a German Luger 9mm. Later, I hunted around to find where he had hidden it. When I did, I remember pulling the trigger (at least aimed in a safe direction) and nothing happened. I remember eventually grabbing the appropriate place on the toggle and racking it. The good news is that I realized that I had just chambered a round. It took me quite a while with that unfamiliar pistol to figure out how to empty it. At that time, I didn’t know about magazines. I kept racking it until it was empty–and then it stayed open. That was when I figured out about the magazine. I had been taught how to check our .22 rifles, but never the Luger. Had I been taught how to do so, none of this would have happened. Scared me to death at the time and it took me a while to get over my fear of magazine fed pistols when I got older. You gotta teach your kids about keeping firearms safe–even if you don’t have firearms at home, because they are elsewhere.

  25. Michael

    taught my daughter to shoot by the time she was 8 years old, and my grandsons at about the same age

  26. Randy

    It would be nice if gun safety was something that was covered in schools. Not a class on shooting but the safety aspects. I doubt many parents want that to happen, but those are the same ones who don’t teach gun safety at home. The down side is that, much like religion, I’m not sure it could be taught correctly, presenting a neutral viewpoint, by many teachers.

  27. Larry

    I’ve taught my children firearm safety and shooting since the age of five like my Dad taught us. I even obtained a full copy of the Eddy Eagle program for schools, gave it to my political representative Brian Curran, Nassau County, NY after the Sandy Hook shooting, AND HE REFUSED TO PUT IT FORTH TO THE SCHOOLS IN HIS DISTRICT! HE IS ALSO A REPUBLICAN! My consensus is, if your Repubilcan or conservative representative won’t or refuses to put forth mandatory firearm safety training at all levels of education in your schools, than find someone with BALLS ENOUGH to do so and elect them! Lives are at stake! As for the liberals and dumbassocrats, if their children die by their stupidity, so be it! I won’t shed a tear! The stupid shall be punished. Same for any other parent that WILL NOT EDUCATE THEIR CHILDREN regardless of their personal views!

  28. Katherine Prados

    Very good article. I don’t have young children in my home but it is still a good reminder if children happen to visit my home. They can’t be trained in a few minutes in my home, but I would lock all guns safely away.

  29. M.

    You forgot this rule:
    Always treat firearms as they are loaded, if you know they are not!


    -What hapends if i click / “push” that button?

  30. William

    I grew up on a ranch and my brother and I was exposed to firearms all of our lives. My father and grandfather both carried guns each day when they checked the cattle and there was a rifle or shotgun behind doors in the houses. we were taught all about the do’s and don’ts of handling guns and we both got our own before we were teenagers. I went on to spend about half of my life in the Army and again learned about weapons.

  31. flyshooter

    Eddie Eagle pre-gun-handling age, the four rules of gun-handling melted into their being for the gun-handling years age 6+, teaching that it’s a tool as important as a fire extinguisher in the home or a jack in the car. A tool you hope you never have to use but skilled in its use in case you do need it.

  32. Minners

    Author ,
    Unarmed female ??? Shot by cop
    Not exactly. Try a 7 year old little girl , Sleeping.
    The trial is forthcoming.
    I hope they take his freedom for a Long time.
    For that little “accident”

  33. joh

    interesting article and valuable to gun owners. however, i have yet to see an article on gun safety for children i feel i can show to neutral or anti parents. all they’ll pick out and remember will be the parts about kids inevitably getting killed by guns because kids will be kids. (no, that isn’t what’s said but that is what they will see) i hope someone will someday soon write an article on kids and guns that will help others understand how and take action to keep children gun safe without provoking a kneejerk fear and hatred of guns.

  34. KJ

    I began teaching my kids about guns at age 4. They helped me clean them and load magazines. At age 5 they went shooting with me. They are so used to guns being around the house and know the safety rules so well that there is no curiosity whatsoever about guns and no temptation to play with them or show their friends.

    If I left a gun laying around the house one of my kids would just walk around it and tell me to clean up my stuff.

    • Kenny Smith

      I had an almost identical situation in my home and now my son goes with me to the range every time I go and my daughter goes with us occasionally. I get to enjoy shooting and as a plus with my family, so I believe it’s a good idea to involve your family early in life for your kids so there will be no gun accidents and you will get to enjoy life so much more !!!!

  35. Brian R.

    Great article!! I teach my kids how to properly handle firearms on the hunt, at the range, and in the home. Respect the firearm, understand basic safety rules, be smart.